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Dogs are amongst the most popular pets in most households in South Africa. Apart from their friendly or protective natures, they are non-judgmental and love their owners unconditionally, despite our many faults and failings. Nonetheless, people who work full-time away from their homes during the day often face the problem of exercising their dogs, especially the larger breeds which need long walks and runs to stay fit and healthy. Since exercising a dog only at the weekends is not a practical option, many people turn to the services of professional dog walkers to help them out during the week when they are unavailable themselves.
A professional dog walker is experienced and knowledgeable about dogs and their behaviour. A dog walker has the responsibility of ensuring that the animal is properly exercised according to its needs, age and health, and for keeping it safe during the walks. No responsible dog walker will allow a dog off the leash near a busy road or in any area where the dog can run off and risk injury or become lost. Since exercising is often thirsty work, a dog walker will ensure that the dog does not become dehydrated or distressed due to lack of fresh water. Some dog walkers may carry bowls and fresh water with them on long walks to ensure that they are able to provide fresh water when needed which is particularly important on very hot days when many pets can easily become distressed in the heat. Similarly, in winter, some dogs need additional protective dog coats to keep them warm, and the dog walker must be diligent in ensuring that the dogs are comfortable during the walks. In areas with strict regulations, they are also responsible for cleaning up after their charges by carrying a “poop-scoop” and disposable bag for such acts of nature. Dog walkers may walk more than one dog at the same time which is not a difficult task for them if the dogs are manageable in terms of size and temperament and are familiar with one another. This would obviously not be possible if the dogs are aggressive towards other dogs or are large, strong breeds which have a tendency to lead their walkers rather than being led! Who hasn’t heard of dogs who take their owners for a walk, rather than the other way around?
Animals have their moods, just as humans do, and can become difficult when frightened, over-excited or over-tired. A dog walker must remain calm and patient at all times, and not try to force a dog to hurry or go somewhere when it is obvious that there is a problem and the dog cannot obey. Some dogs may become nervous or aggressive when around dogs they do not know, and may try to run away from or attack other dogs. A dog walker must know how to handle such a situation calmly, and be prepared for such eventualities. Shouting and panicking will not help the situation, and a knowledgeable dog walker will handle the problem in as calm a manner as possible. No matter how well-behaved a dog is, there may be situations when fear, fright or excessive excitement will make them react irrationally, and a skilled dog walker will be able to handle all situations as knowledgeably and calmly as possible.
Professional dog walkers are, as yet, not a largely visible occupation in South Africa, perhaps because our climate and working hours make dog walking more manageable for owners themselves. There are professional dog walkers who are beginning to advertise via the internet as well as on the more traditional platforms such as newspaper ads, the Yellow Pages, flyers, advertisements in pet and dog magazines and publications. They may also leave flyers or business cards in pet shops and supply stores and veterinary consulting rooms. If searching the internet, a good way of finding these experts would be through a search site such as Uptasker, which lists those services in your geographical location, as well as providing online ratings and customer reviews. Reading reviews and ratings give you a good idea of the level of service any particular service provider, which is always a good guide. If the supplier has a website, Uptasker provides one-click links through to these websites, which saves a lot of time and frustration. If you have friends who make use of a dog walking service, be sure to check with them and see if there is availability in their schedule to accommodate your pets.
It goes without saying that a professional dog walker is undoubtedly a dog enthusiast with a good understanding of canine needs and behaviour. You will be able to judge immediately when you meet a potential dog walker for the first time and see the interaction between them and your dog. Beware of any applicant who takes little notice of your beloved pet at the first meeting, as this is a clear indication of a lack of interest and enthusiasm. If you find an immediate connection between your dog and the applicant, then it would be fair to say that this is a good fit for both you and your dog. For more tips, see our dog walker articles.